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Tree-climbing abortion protester no longer banned from all of District

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Rives Grogan is allowed back into the District.

The protester who took to a tree to shout antiabortion comments during President Obama’s inauguration in January had been banned by a D.C. judge from setting foot in the city.

But that order was amended during a hearing Monday. The revised order says the tenacious Grogan may roam widely among us while awaiting trial but must avoid a clearly defined area on Capitol Hill that encompasses the Capitol grounds, the House and Senate office buildings, the Supreme Court and the Library of Congress.

The barring of Grogan from the city after his five hours in the tree touched off a vigorous debate over free speech and political dissent in the nation’s capital.

“It seems they at least have tailored a more-appropriate measure,” said James E. Felman, a Tampa defense attorney and co-chairman of the American Bar Association’s sentencing committee.

Grogan, 47, runs a ministry and boardinghouse in Los Angeles and acknowledges that he preaches loudly enough to make him an irritant, by his count racking up about 10 arrests and a half-dozen convictions in two years relating to House and Senate buildings alone.

Grogan said he drove from California to attend Monday’s hearing in D.C. Superior Court. Even under the full ban, he was permitted to return to participate in his legal defense and took the opportunity to stand on the sidewalk at Judiciary Square to protest abortion and preach about tornadoes as God’s punishment for sins.

Grogan has five misdemeanor cases pending in Superior Court stemming from protest actions and has pleaded not guilty to all, court records show. Those include the January charges and a June 2012 case prosecutors revived after the January arrest.

In that June case, Grogan said, he shouted remarks against Planned Parenthood from the public viewing balcony of the Senate. The case had been dismissed in a manner that enabled prosecutors to refile it at a later time.

“That’s totally amazing to me that they could even try that, to bring back the charges,” Grogan said Tuesday in a telephone interview.

After his Monday appearance in the District, Grogan was set to appear Wednesday in a court in Cincinnati, where he was charged with trespassing and resisting arrest after disrupting the National League Division Series in the fall by running on the field with a sign that read “Abortion is Sin.”

The banishment of Grogan from the District occurred after Magistrate Judge Karen Howze signed a more sweeping order than prosecutors had sought in January.

Howze said at the time that she had weighed Grogan’s right to free speech against safety issues, court transcripts show, but that his recurring arrests elevated her worry enough to bar him from entering the city. She released him on bond pending trial.

Grogan was back in court Monday for another procedural pretrial hearing in his cases and appeared with his attorney, John R. Garza, hired by the Rutherford Institute, a civil-liberties group. At Grogan’s arrest in January, police accused him of breaking several tree branches as he scampered 45 feet up a tree to escape officers on the Mall.

A Capitol Police spokesman has said authorities did not deem Grogan a threat to the president.

Charges include violating laws that require authorities to “preserve the peace and secure the Capitol from defacement” and to protect the “public property, turf and grounds from destruction.”

Prosecutors presented the refined plan to bar Grogan from the Capitol grounds. Judge John McCabe accepted the narrower constraints on Grogan — over Grogan’s objections — and his attorneys pledged to continue to challenge limits on his movements.

John Whitehead, president of the Rutherford Institute, said the organization argued that “the Capitol grounds banishment is unconstitutional. . . . I think he has a right to go up there and protest. If he wants to hold a sign in front of the Supreme Court, he should be able to go and do it.”

Grogan is due back in March for another pretrial hearing.

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